May 23, 2008 in Features

Pot o’ garden

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Ed Peck rolls out a 35-gallon garden container for a customer at the Secret Garden in Spokane Valley.
(Full-size photo)

Whether you’re a condo dweller, renter or homeowner eager to turn some dirt, consider container gardening. It’s a magnificent way to bring blooms and greenery into your space – regardless of its size.

“Container gardening is a trend that continues to increase in popularity each year,” said Maralee Karwoski, a Washington State University Master Gardener in Spokane County.

“Choose the largest pot you can afford, it offers a lot more room for creativity and is easier to keep watered,” Karwoski said. Ideally, it will have drain holes in the bottom that are easily covered by scraps of screen wire or nylon mesh to hold soil in and let water out.

Bev Canfield, another WSU Master Gardener, said to first fill half the container with pine cones. Not only do they slash container weight, they provide drainage, are abundant here and halve the amount of expensive planting medium needed, she said.

Both women said they shy from terra cotta and glazed ceramic pots. While attractive, they heat up so much under the Inland Northwest sun, they bake everything inside.

Canfield said to be sure to discard any previously used soil mix; its nutrients are depleted. She uses last year’s growing medium to fill low spots in her yard or to beef up the compost pile. And don’t use soil from your garden, she said. It’s dense and heavy and may house pathogens.

Instead, splurge on new planting mix, the gardeners said.

Available at nurseries and greenhouses, premium varieties are infused with fertilizer and contain vermiculite or perlite to lighten and loosen up the mix. Or simply add slow release, granular fertilizer to new medium.

Choose fertilizers with equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium, listed as numbers in that order on the package. Canfield said a 10-10-10 or 15-15-15 ratio would work well.

Now the thrill of purchasing plants can begin.

To avoid a mish mash of plants, Karwoski said, settle on a color scheme.

“Creative color combos, like black and blue, peach and black cherry and hot colored flowers cooled with lime (colored) foliage plants can really spark visual interest in containers,” Karwoski said.

Added Canfield: “If you’re unsure which colors work together, buy an artist’s color wheel and select opposing colors to accentuate one another.”

Check for moist soil and plants that when removed from pots don’t show a tangle of white roots. Pass up wilted sale plants because they’re already half-dead, Canfield said.

To create a stunning design, plant purchases should include “a thriller, a filler and a spiller,” Karwoski said.

Thriller plants should be tallest. Plant them in the center. Encircle them with shorter, fuller fillers. And add cascading vine-type plants around the container’s edge, she said.

Choose varieties that thrive under similar growing conditions – full sun, partial sun or shade. And include plants of varying textures to ensure containers look good even when not in bloom, Karwoski said

Water your containers using a spray wand or a drip line shortly after they dry out. Pluck spent blooms and yellow leaves so plant energy will be expended on new growth, Canfield said.

After a few weeks, start regular feedings with water soluble fertilizer. For frequent, numerous blooms, use a product with a middle number between 25 and 50 and first and third numbers of 10 or 15. Repeat every 10 to 14 days.

Then take time to admire your creations. Summer’s beauty always seems too short.


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